North Ayrshire claimed more national titles with a series of impressive swims from our team at the Scottish Schools finals.
At this event the swimmers are, for official purposed, representing their schools, but such is the standard of competition, with only the fastest 20 getting through to the finals, that the only swimmers to qualify from North Ayrshire were those who swim for the club.
This year 12 of our swimmers made it to the finals, held over long course at Tollcross, with 18 race entries.
Fraser Kelly claimed our first medal with victory in the 100m fly for 15- and 16-year olds, breaking the 1-minute barrier and setting a new personal best of 59:90, and then followed that up by lowering his time in the 200m race – arguably the most punishing event in swimming – to take his second medal of the day.
He told us: “In getting the gold medal I achieved a goal I’d set to get under the minute, and I was very happy to see that my work in training had paid off.”
Jess Wilkie, the head coach, who was mentoring them on poolside, says Fraser was close to taking home two gold medals.
“He went out really strong in the first 100m,” she says, “and he tried to hold on but got beaten at the end.”
Rory Dickson also claimed a gold and silver medal taking convincing win in the 400m individual medley in the 17-19-year-old age group, setting a new personal best of 4:41.65.
Earlier in the day he’d had to settle for second place in the all-round event over the 200m distance, and Rory believes he can go faster still.
“The race was pretty scrappy,” he says. “I was quite sore because we’ve done a lot of metres in the last training block and with only very short rests, so doing that over and over again your muscles are going to feel the effect. You’re feeling it at the back end of the races so the front crawl and breaststroke was really ropey.
“I knew there was a drop to come in the 400m IM so it was in the back of my head that I could PB it, but I was just trying to stick to the plan of going out and seeing how fast I could go the first 200m because that’s where all the energy is.
“After missing out on the ‘A’ final of the 400m IM at the Scottish Short Course in Edinburgh it’s good to be able to show what I can do in a proper final – long course as well - so I’m pretty happy with that.”
Jess agrees there’s more to come: “We tried something different with Rory’s 200m swim and we know where we need to change it for the age groups,” she says.
Jennifer Murray claimed our fifth medal with a bronze in the 200m free having already taken a 5th place in the 400m race with a 4:38.94 which impressed the coach: “Jen had a really good race in that 400 because there were some really strong girls in there.”
Just missing out on a medal in the 200m IM was Evan Clark, from Auchenharvie Academy, who set a 2:23.9 to take fourth place.
“Evan put in a good swim in a tough field with swimmers including Rory, and others who are on the British swimming programme, so it was a great opportunity to compete against people like that and he was very close to his PB,” says Jess.
Eve Mair got another fourth place with a 2:39.9 in the 200m IM.
Isla Waller was the only primary school pupil in North Ayrshire to qualify for the national finals.
The 11-year-old Largs Primary student had a choice of events she could enter after the Ayrshire qualifying round, but the rules dictated she could choose only one, and she selected the 50m fly.
After setting a new PB to qualify for the final in 10th place she went faster again in the decider, lowering her time to a 35.15 for the sprint event, and moving up to 9th place in the standings.
Isla told us: “I felt I did well because it was my first ever national final. I was quite excited but also nervous.
“I’m not a sprinter and I don’t normally do 50m fly so it was quite different, I liked the change. You’re just shooting up the pool as fast as you can whereas in a 100m or 200m race you have to think tactically and save some energy for the last length where you go all-out.
“My start could have been a bit faster, and the first two strokes, but I was pleased I went the furthest underwater after the dive from the blocks in both the heat and the final.
“I just wanted to try my hardest in the final, stay calm and do what I needed to do – good underwater, fast arms and strong kick.
Jess told us: “It was great to see Isla progressing from heat to final, that’s something we’re looking for across the board.”
Another of the younger swimmer posting big improvements was Rachel McGuire, from Saltcoats, who was representing her school, St Matthews, in the 13-14-year-old events. She took a massive 13 seconds off her 200m fly PB, bringing it down to 2:55.39, having already set a new best of 1:18.93 for the 100m event.
In the same age category, Nathan Hughes, who studies at Wellington School, qualified to swim in the 200m breaststroke, setting a time of 3:10.96.
Jacob Tarran, from Fairlie, put in a brilliant performance racing in the same 100m fly event as Fraser, taking 7 seconds off his PB, from 1:20 down to 1:13, while Andrew Sutherland, made up the Largs Academy trio with gutsy performances in the 100m and 200m freestyle, as Jess explains.
“Andrew was off with the flu in the build-up, so we were just concentrating on getting back into training and get the focus back.”
Adam Currie qualified for the 100m fly in the 13-14 age group and set a 1:19.51. “He’ll be looking to swim faster over the next couple of weeks,” says Jess, who was impressed with Leah Stark taking 3 seconds off her 200m IM for a new PB of 2.41.27. “That was a strong swim from Leah with her best time in long course, so you can’t complain about that.”
“We did really well,” says Jess, summing up the event. “We got PBs we weren’t expecting at this point in the season. We’re still in pretty hard training at the moment and everyone’s looking really good and on-track to swim fast at the Scottish National Age Group championships over the Easter holidays.